The Humble Nasturtium

Dec 16, 2021

Last summer I once again planted nasturtiums willy-nilly throughout my garden. They went nuts.

Though slow to start and devilishly difficult to pick for floral arrangements they bring so much exuberance to wherever they flourish I find them irresistible. Trying to pick inevitably results in a few being crunched underfoot. They don’t seem to care, churning out more leaves and more flowers until frost brings them asunder.

Their improbably vibrant colors virtually screamed at me to pay them some attention. The resulting painting is evidence that I eventually did.

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My mother was not a natural cook. She had stiff competition from her mother-in-law, though, so she learned fast. There were lots of pot roasts and potatoes, yes, but she would always experiment with interesting newfangled things – at least to us – that she found at the store like avocados and soy sauce. And inspired by the writings of Adelle Davis (Let’s Have Healthy Children and Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit) during the late 50s and into the 60s this Eisenhower Republican dove headfirst into the natural food movement.

I remember a lot of wheat germ and something called Tiger’s Milk (stuff that still elicits a great deal of suspicion in this youngest daughter’s soul). She became a more confident cook and became a Jack LaLanne adherent to boot. Her children were captive to the whole situation so it became the way we ate. At some point my father put his foot down at the fertilized eggs.

As a result of all this she became a very good cook. She did it all, from soups and salad drssings to cookies and cakes. She never became a bread maker, I suspect because my grandmother’s breads and cinnamon rolls were legendary.

Quite honestly, I don’t remember those meals so much as I remember the birthday cakes which were inevitably decorated with flowers from her garden: chrysanthemums, roses, marigolds and daisies. We didn’t have nasturtiums in our beds but if we had, I’m sure she would have tapped them as well as. Like chrysanthemums, roses and marigolds, nasturtiums are edible, even an excellent source of vitamin C. I’ll spare you Mother’s obsession with vitamin C.

I don’t make that many birthday cakes these days. My daughter-in-law is an inspiring cook who makes heavenly baked goods, but upon the rare occasion that I do, and if those nasturtiums are blooming in the garden, you can bet your sweet bippy that they’ll probably wind up on my cakes, and in more of my paintings.

Painting: Nasturtium Quartet © Lissa Banks 2021